Sean Couturier's scratching is reportedly "a pace issue"

Sean Couturier will once again be a healthy scratch. Is his pace the true issue behind all of this?
Sean Couturier will once again be a healthy scratch. Is his pace the true issue behind all of this? / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

While John Tortorella would not discuss any lineup decisions regarding Sean Couturier ahead of the Flyers matchup with the Hurricanes, the team's lines during the morning skate painted a clear picture. Couturier was again with Denis Gurianov and Cam Atkinson during the skate and remained with them after the official skate was over. That is usually an indication of players that will not be in the lineup.

What we don't know is the actual reason for Couturier's absence. Plenty of things can be speculated as to why he will now sit for two straight games. But without an explanation from Tortorella, it remains speculation. We do have an indication of what it could be as Elliotte Friedman dedicated a section of his 32 Thoughts to the situation.

"14. OK, Sean Couturier. No one should be surprised. John Tortorella has no sacred cows. Could happen to anyone and everyone with him, and he’s pushed almost every right button in Philadelphia this season. From what I’ve heard, it’s a “pace” issue. No one questions Couturier’s will or desire and no one should. He easily could have stayed injured and cashed the checks. And I don’t have a problem with his initial disappointment. Even as captain, he’s entitled to a day of frustration."

Couturier is 31 years old and entered the season coming off two back surgeries. He missed nearly two seasons of hockey in the process. Coming back to the NHL wasn't a guarantee for him after that much missed time. But he has done it and was one of Philadelphia's best players at the beginning of the season. He was also averaging over 20 minutes of ice time after that missed time. Looking back, that may not have been the right move for him and the Flyers.

Looking at Couturier's recent stretch, it is fair to say that the Flyers need more from him offensively and defensively. Using the last 23 games as a sample size, Couturier has just one goal and six points. That is after a stretch of seven games in which he had seven points. He did have one goal in those seven games, but any kind of offense from him helps. Just looking at his offensive production, the numbers speak for themselves. Couturier is far from his best offensive season, 33 goals and 76 points in 2018-19. The numbers have dropped considerably since then, partially due to injury.

Defensively is where Couturier has shined. The former Selke winner has long been complimented for his two-way play. If we use that same 23-game stretch, however, it paints the opposite picture. Starting with 5-on-5 play, Couturier has the worst goal-share differential amongst those who have played a similar number of games in that stretch. He was on the ice for just seven goals for the Flyers and 23 for the opposition. The team owns a 51.60 xGF% but is getting massively outscored despite that. Change that to all strengths and the numbers change to 12 goals for and 30 against. The xGF% drops slightly to 50.17.

Couturier is not solely to blame for that, as the team is driving play based on the numbers when he is on the ice. Some of that can fall on goaltending and some of that can fall on other players. But the numbers speak for themselves in the end. Saying there are issues with the pace Couturier is playing with seems like a fair reason to scratch him if that is indeed the true reason.

While we won't know what the truth is, the numbers give us a clearer picture as to what could be a logical reason. Unless Tortorella decides to speak on it, this is the best thing we have to go off of.